The Power of the Dash Camera – Not Even Cops Are Immune

4 Jan

Dash cameras, such as the kind used by local law enforcement agencies around the country, have been a controversial topic for much of their existence. Originally intended to increase visibility in the surrounding community and establish a new layer of accountability at the same time, they’ve been met with negative reactions from people on both sides of the aisle for various reasons. Cops are often less than enthused about the fact that their every activity is being recorded, while community members are constantly fighting states that attempt to enact laws to prevent the footage ever being made public.

Having said that, it’s hard to argue that there’s one thing dash cameras are GREAT at: catching stupidity in the act. Such is the case with two Utica, New York police officers who were caught planting evidence on the job in 2012. They would have gotten away with it, too — had they not carried out their illegal deed within full view of the dash camera that they apparently forgot existed.

The Curious Case of the Dash Camera Footage

At a little after 1:00 a.m. in 2012, two Utica, New York police officers made a routine traffic stop — like so many they had made before. In the entire 30+ minute dash cam video that was eventually released by the police department to the public, one of the officers clearly can be seen pulling a small bag of something out of his pocket. Some 30 seconds later, he ducks into the car. He quickly emerges… holding that very same baggie; only now he’s insisting that it’s something that he found during his routine search of the vehicle.

In their first of many official statements related to the matter, the Utica police department said that the full video clearly showed that the officer DID originally find the baggie on the suspect. Only later did he make the decision to place it in his pocket and then to pretend that he found it in the vehicle itself. None of that actually matters, but to be fair — that is what the full video shows.

For the record, the bag in question contained both marijuana and a “small residue of cocaine.” To their credit, the Utica police department doubled-down on their defense of the officers, saying that what the police officer did was an entirely defensible form of evidence processing at the scene of a crime.

The Aftermath

The video itself was eventually released to the public by way of the Utica Phoenix newspaper and was met with outrage throughout the community, as you might expect. Despite a number of statements issuing their support for the officers in question, the Utica police department did eventually begin an internal affairs investigation into the incident itself. Along the way, the video had also been sent to the FBI for further review.

“I mishandled evidence and tried to plant it on a suspect only because I forgot I was being recorded,” is not, as it turns out, a viable defense in this type of situation. Though this particular situation does have an undercurrent of humor, it’s key to remember that these types of incidents are playing out across the country every single day — and not all of them are being recorded.

The Reality of Dash Cameras: They’re Here to Stay

All of this goes to show that dash cameras and similar types of technology are becoming more commonplace in our daily lives — it’s reached the point that even police officers can sometimes forget they’re recording their own actions at the most inopportune of moments. In a weird way, though, this is actually empowering the cameras to work exactly as intended. The more ubiquitous they become, the more they fade into the background.

This idea serves to underscore the importance of always being aware of your surroundings. Any time you step out into public (or into a seemingly private area that is accessible for others), you could potentially be recorded without your knowledge.

 

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